written by Tim Gilmore (Translation Advisor)

We have been asking Zinza language speakers questions about the best terms to use for important words in the Bible, to make sure we get the meaning right. Whether such words are translated correctly or incorrectly can make a huge difference in people’s understanding. 

One such word that we needed to test was the word “Obubási,” which we were told might be a good word for “Prophet.” Everywhere we went, from one area of Zinza speakers to the next, we said the word “Obubási” and people gave a blank stare! No one seemed to know the word at all. This was quite confusing, considering the report we had heard that this might be a good word.

This staring blankly at the pronunciation of the word continued until one day when a very old and blind Zinza man, who lived at the very end of a very long cow path, was listening to the reading…

When he heard the word, our Zinza Translator Barthazari repeated the word to see if it meant anything to this man: “Obubási, Obubási?” Nothing! No recognition could be observed, until suddenly our translator happened, almost accidentally, to pull out the length of the ‘a’. Obubáasi! Now the old man recognized the word! The small group of us all laughed, thinking about how many times we must have pronounced it incorrectly. 

Now what was the difference? What made him suddenly know the meaning of this word? It was only the length of that one vowel! Apparently a long vowel can make all the difference between someone recognizing a word, or giving a blank stare! So, our team now understands the importance of distinguishing these long vowels from their related short ones in our writing systems. Then, readers will pronounce them properly, enabling their hearers to properly recognize the meaning of a word.